BMA considers vote of no confidence in Andrew Lansley

Doctors are frustrated that they are being ignored. “Top-down reorganisation” is exactly what this l

The British Medical Association (BMA) – the professional body representing doctors – is to debate a vote of no confidence in the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, amid mounting anger about his plans to restructure the NHS.

An emergency general meeting has been called for next week. Several motions highly critical of the Health Secretary will be discussed.

The BMA's biggest branch, its London regional council, has submitted a motion seeking a vote of no confidence. Another, from the Buckinghamshire branch, calls for the same, on the basis that Lansley has reneged on a pre-election promise to end "top-down reorganisation of the NHS" and has pursued reform despite no evidence that either patient care or NHS finances will be improved.

Birmingham doctors make the same point, in markedly angry language, saying that one "would not buy a used car off someone who had trumpeted no 'top-down' reorganisation of the NHS prior to being elected and then proceeds to introduce a massive and clearly long-planned reorganisation of the NHS after being elected".

Much of this frustration arises from doctors feeling that their concerns are being ignored by the Health Secretary. In January the BMA chairman, Dr Hamish Meldrum, voiced concerns that Lansley had not responded directly to the organisation's detailed and constructive criticisms of the Health Bill.

Dr Kevin O'Kane, chairman of the BMA's London region, explains the move thus:

The BMA has until now attempted to have dialogue with the Health Secretary since he released his NHS reform white paper last summer. But unfortunately Andrew Lansley has totally ignored our concerns and has behaved in a high-handed fashion with the concerns of the BMA, other health unions, the medical royal colleges, patients' groups and health think tanks.

The proposed reforms have been controversial, to say the least, with David Cameron employing a new adviser to keep an eye on NHS policy. After private meetings with Lansley, the Prime Minister has decided to stand by the policy. However, it is cause for concern if the voices of the professionals who will be affected are ignored, particularly given that Cameron wrote just last month that the "big society" means "putting trust in professionals and power in the hands of the people they serve".

In practice, if a vote of no confidence were passed, it would further dilute the BMA's capacity to influence the policy. But that it is even under discussion is a sign of huge frustration within the medical profession. The government would do well to engage with these dissenting voices in order to make reform more workable, rather than shut them out altogether. "Top-down reorganisation" is exactly what this looks like.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Fears over Notting Hill Carnival reveal more about racism than reality

Statistically, the event is about as safe as Glastonbury.

Notting Hill carnival is terrifying. As soon as the sun sets, gangs emerge ready to prey on unsuspecting attendees with Red Stripe cans fashioned into knives. Children barter for drugs. Dancing is punctuated by ceremonial burials for those killed in between every dancehall tune. And that's just on the kids’ day.

Except, it's not true. Statistically, the event is about as safe as Glastonbury - if not safer, judging by the number of arrests. In 2015, Glasto was praised for its low arrest rate (75 arrests for a crowd of 135,000), but in the same year carnival had ten times the capacity and fewer than ten times the offences.

Despite these statistics, the police, MPs and newspapers seem desperate to paint carnival as a gang-run danger zone. The Met Police recently tweeted about a kilo of heroin seized in the run up to carnival, despite not even knowing whether the perpetrators were going to the event. MPs, such as former Kensington MP Victoria Borwick, are happy to fuel this fire, claiming to be concerned about the supposed “year on year increase in violence and physical harm to our police officers and members of the public”. Newspapers revel in publishing large spreads about the raids in the run up to the two days, despite lacking evidence they’re even connected. Break this down and it’s clear: this dislike towards carnival roots itself in racism - the presumption that a festival celebrating black, West Indian culture, frequented by a higher proportion of black British punters, must inevitably, be violent.

I have been attending carnival since the age of six, when my parents moved to the area (90s gentrification alert). I used to sell Ribena for a markup on my street, took part in the float my primary school ran and every year witnessed the incredible recontextualisation of the area. Gone is the whitewashing for a moment: the streets and houses become splattered in neon paint, jerk chicken boxes and Red Stripe cans. It is one of the best things to happen to the area, and its vast cultural value exceeds the bougie cafes and boutique clothing stalls that span the area.

And yet, every year, I have to dodge questions from relatives and friends about how dangerous it supposedly is. “Ooh, Notting Hill carnival. Bit scary, isn't it? Lots of angry youth who can get quite violent I hear. Didn't someone get stabbed last year?” Perhaps a viable question to ask anyone going to a crowded event. Except, why weren’t they asking me this when I flew to Amsterdam this year to go to a music festival?

There's another side of critiquing carnival that is equally infuriating, and that's that the fact that the event in some ways stands as a consolation prize to the original tenants of the area. In the middle of the 20th Century, Notting Hill was far from the Russian oligarch haven it is today. It was the Windrush Era, when black immigrants began arriving from the Caribbean. They came not out of some overwhelming desire to be freezing for 11 months, but because Britain was struggling after the Second World War, and desperately needed a labour force. Despite the demand, the West Indians were met with hostility and racism, forced to live in the worst areas of London. One of those places was Notting Hill.

Imagine, then, the audacity of shaming carnival. Imagine being forced by racism into a rundown neighbourhood, turning it into something fashionable, and then being priced out by middle-class white people. Imagine on top of that, having your legacy celebration degraded under the guise of safety concerns.

This year will feel different. It will be the first year ever under a Labour MP. It will also come two months and a half months after the Grenfell fire, where many of its residents and victims will have taken part in the event. Whilst there’s something defiant in these parades, it will be hard for the collective joy not to be marred by a knowledge that somewhere in this borough, bodies are being buried because of our council.

We need to see carnival for what it is: a celebration of a culture struggling to stay afloat in the area. Kensington continues to edge out those who may not be living in £2.5m homes - whether it’s with rising house prices, creating anxiety around an event or even putting lives at risk due to sheer disregard and greed. If you’re worried about going, I would avoid all large, crowded events in general, because there’s no use believing the vacuous and racist hype. Beyond getting splattered with paint and dancing too enthusiastically to Bashment, there’s nothing to fear.